By Wesley Sykes / firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted Jun 15, 2017 at 7:45 PM
NEW BEDFORD — Police Chief Joe Cordeiro made his way down Acushnet Avenue on Thursday afternoon, stopping to talk to people on the streets and store owners.
He shook hands. He flashed a smile and struck up small-talk conversations — some in Portuguese, some in Spanish, others in English. He also asked them to relay any concerns they had about their community.
Michelle Benoit, a server at the Dog House Restaurant on Coggeshall Street, told Cordeiro about kids popping wheelies on bicycles and motorbikes on the road. She also pointed to a missing streetlight that used to be just outside the entrance.
“I leave here late at night most of the time,” she said. “I’m worried about walking to my car in the dark.”
Cordeiro nodded his head with empathy, took out his notebook and jotted down the complaint. “I’ll check with DPI about it,” he said.
The police chief’s presence in the North End of the city Thursday kicked off a new program for the department. The Walk and Talk program will have officers all over the city — starting with the high-crime areas — taking 30 minutes out of their shift daily to talk with members of the community to reflect a commitment to New Bedford being a “city of one.”
“Police departments can do their job better when talking to people and relating to them,” Mayor Jon Mitchell said. “Building trust within the community so information flows in their direction. That’s what this is about.”
He added, “Economic resurgence and neighborhood renewals can’t happen unless everybody feels safe. There are some neighborhoods that remain far too unsafe. We’re stepping up today to deal with that.”
It’s less of a beat walk and more of way to strengthen the relationship between the police department and the community, Cordeiro said. Starting at the corner of Holly Street and Acushnet Avenue, Cordeiro headed south, stopping every few feet to greet a passerby or stop in a business to explain that an increased police presence on foot will occur in the coming days and weeks.
Martha Gonzalez, owner of Adriana’s Mexican Restaurant on Acushnet Avenue, recognized Cordeiro walking down the street and greeted him with a hug. Gonzalez, a regular at the Love The Ave Steering Committee meetings, said Cordeiro floated the idea to the North End neighborhood group.
“Thank you for following through,” she said.
More than eventually gaining intel on what’s happening in each pocket of the city, Cordeiro sees the program as putting a different perspective on community relations with his department. Too often, he said, resident interactions with police can involve emotions of anger, frustration and fear. This way removes a feeling of superiority and replaces it with empathy, he said.
“It could be something as simple as helping a lady carry her groceries inside or playing with the kids after school,” he said.
But Cordeiro knows the program won’t pay dividends immediately. The results will show gradually. On the way back from the walk down Acushnet Avenue, he saw two teenage boys popping wheelies on their bicycles on either side of the road. He made eye contact with one of the teenagers, who brought the front end of his bike back to the ground.
“Be careful you could hurt yourself,” he said to the boy.
The boy continued down the street before popping up on his hind wheel again. A few moments passed and the roar of a motor bike zoomed down Holly Street. The motorbike had no license plate and the rider was not wearing a helmet.
“The results won’t happen over night,” he said.
Follow Wesley Sykes on Twitter @WesleySykes_SCT.
Original story here.